Thursday, May 6, 2010

Swim - Caribou


Merge Records.

SCQ Rating: 88%

I’m ready to talk about Andorra now. The five-month period running from mid-August through December, 2007, felt like a Twilight Zone episode, where I was the sole opposition to a fleet of bloggers and friends insistent that Dan Snaith’s fourth full-length was among the best records of the calendar year. And by “opposition”, I mean I didn’t participate, instead taking each instance of excited hyperbole as reason to reinvestigate my copy for that something I must’ve missed. The same problem that plagued me then exists today: there was nothing to find. Beyond collecting a few of Snaith’s most conservative, Zombies-influenced pop songs, Andorra was Caribou diluted; a filtering that erased all his psychedelic flourishes in favour of pale, computerized sketches. Eschewing melody and every trademark Manitoba/Caribou had earned, Snaith incidentally proved that being too meticulous could end up sounding oblivious.

The reason I’m so eager to discuss Andorra two and a half years after the fact is Swim, 2010’s follow-up that reinstates Caribou’s grab-bag of hippie-organic oddities while pushing electronic-pop to the warm fringes of whatever synthetic trademarks the genre has left. And interestingly enough, the best starting-point to argue the massive differences between these two records lies in its sole kinship: techno. While Andorra’s intricate pulses warded off the possibility of exhausting Snaith’s rise-and-crash dynamics (introduced on Up In Flames and nuanced into The Milk of Human Kindness’ krautrock styling), Swim finds the Dundas, Ontario native wisely merging his patented climaxes with the dance rhythms of his recent repertoire. Better yet, Snaith uses this powerhouse strategy to get insidious; ‘Odessa’ would make a swell remix of a 50s horror soundtrack if it’s creeping bass-hops weren’t simultaneously so funky and ‘Bowls’ digs fresh clay out of somber tones, drifting as stealthily as a trip down Heart of Darkness’ eerie riverbank. The resonance of these tracks owe much to Snaith’s emphasis on organic bells and whistles but are incalculably deeper due to his layering, which places brass and woodwind instruments spontaneously over a composition, instead of nestling it firmly into place. Take the manic horn squeals that provide a rush of ecstasy to ‘Kaili’’s digital storm, or the shadowy moods evoked from the saxophone/trombone combination on ‘Hannibal’; these embellishments become crucial markers for Swim, compiling a masterwork of impulsive pop-art production that thrills off of bending the rules. What better example can I offer than the arpeggio guitar-line in ‘Found Out’, which oscillates hypnotically out of tune before a subtle chord change finds it blazingly evolved - in-tune, sure, but emotionally charged as well.

Swim adequately instigates a peace-offering with Andorra, pointing out that Polaris Prize-winning record’s growing pains while teaching how to imbed psychedelic influences into taunt, lively dance rhythms. Hell, this new record owes a lot to Andorra's missteps and stands upon the shoulders of Caribou’s prior work to represent another extroverted refinement, more textured than Up In Flames without forsaking any of that breakthrough’s presence. With compositions that boast some of Caribou’s best vocal and instrumental efforts while flexing on kinetic and expressive levels, Swim is more than a return-to-form: it’s living up to Dan Snaith’s potential.

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